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Context of 'September 25, 2001: Justice Department Lawyer Asserts There Is No Limit to President’s Authority to Wage War'

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After the failure of the US federal government under the Articles of Confederation, the men working to shape the new American government—later termed the “Founders”—determine that the new government must have a president with power equal to that of Congress and the Supreme Court. The federal government itself has far more power under the new Constitution than it had under the Articles, but many Founders worry that the government will have, or take upon itself, the power to constrain or even destroy individual rights and freedoms. The government, therefore, will have strict limitations on its functions, and will be divided into three co-equal branches. Debate over whether the new government should have a single president or an executive council rages, but eventually the Founders decide that a single president could best act decisively in times of crisis. However, Congress has the strength to curtail presidential power via legislation and oversight. One of the Founders’ most crucial decisions is to give Congress, not the president, the power to declare war and commit military troops to battle. Congress must also authorize any military actions that fall short of actual war, the creation and maintenance of armies, and exercise control over how the president can call on the armed forces in emergencies. Finally, the Founders, all too aware that until the English Revolution of 1688, the King of England could use his “prerogative powers” to dispense with a law that he felt unnecessary, move to ensure that the US president cannot use a similar usurpation of power to override Congressional legislation, writing in the Constitution that the president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In 2007, reporter Charlie Savage, drawing on James Madison’s Federalist Papers, will write: “Knowing that it was inevitable that from time to time foolish, corrupt, or shortsighted individuals would win positions of responsibility in the government, the Founders came up with a system that would limit anyone’s ability to become a tyrant or to otherwise wreck the country. And over the next century and a half, the system worked as the Founders had designed it to work.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 14-16]

Entity Tags: James Madison, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Congress adopts a joint resolution, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), that determines that “the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” Congress also states that the “grave acts of violence” committed on the US “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to [its] national security and foreign policy.” [US Congress, 9/14/2001] President Bush signs the resolution into law on September 18. [White House, 9/18/2001] The passage of the AUMF served another purpose: to extend presidential power. While the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff intended the AUMF to define the conflict in narrow terms, and authorize the US to move militarily against al-Qaeda and its confederates, and the Taliban, Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, had a larger goal. Attorney Scott Horton, who has written two major studies on interrogation of terrorism suspects for the New York City Bar Association, says in 2005 that Cheney and Addington “really wanted [the AUMF defined more broadly], because it provided the trigger for this radical redefinition of presidential power.” Addington helped draft a Justice Department opinion in late 2001, written by lawyer John Yoo (see Late September 2001), that asserted Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Taliban, Scott Horton, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, John C. Yoo, Al-Qaeda, Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

John Yoo.John Yoo. [Source: University of California, Berkeley]In a secret 15-page memo to Deputy White House Counsel Timothy Flanigan, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, a deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, reasons that it is “beyond question that the president has the plenary constitutional power to take such military actions as he deems necessary and appropriate to respond to the terrorist attacks” of 9/11. Those actions can be extensive. “The president may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the states that harbor or support them,” Yoo writes, “whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of Sept. 11.… Force can be used both to retaliate for those attacks, and to prevent and deter future assaults on the nation. Military actions need not be limited to those individuals, groups, or states that participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” The memo is solicited and overseen by White House lawyers.
Power Derives from Constitution, Congressional Authorization for War - This power of the president, Yoo states, rests both on the US Congress’ Joint Resolution of September 14 (see September 14-18, 2001) and on the War Powers Resolution of 1973. “Neither statute, however, can place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” (Most experts believe that the Constitution strictly limits the president’s power to declare and conduct war—see 1787).
Power More Extensive than Congress Authorized - Yoo argues further that the September 14 resolution does not represent the limits to the president’s authority. “We think it beyond question” that Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the president alone to make.” Congress’s “Joint Resolution is somewhat narrower than the president’s constitutional authority,” Yoo writes, as it “does not reach other terrorist individuals, groups, or states which cannot be determined to have links to the September 11 attacks.” The president’s broad power can be used against selected individuals suspected of posing a danger to the US, even though it may be “difficult to establish, by the standards of criminal law or even lower legal standards, that particular individuals or groups have been or may be implicated in attacks on the United States.” Yoo concludes: “[W]e do not think that the difficulty or impossibility of establishing proof to a criminal law standard (or of making evidence public) bars the president from taking such military measures as, in his best judgment, he thinks necessary or appropriate to defend the United States from terrorist attacks. In the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the president’s decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable.”
'Unenumerated' Presidential Powers - Yoo even asserts that the president has more power than his memo claims: “[T]he president’s powers include inherent executive powers that are unenumerated in the Constitution,” including but not limited to the power to take the country to war without Congressional input. [US Department of Justice, 9/25/2001; Savage, 2007, pp. 121-122]
Memo Remains Secret for Three Years - The contents of this memo are not disclosed until mid-December 2004. [Newsweek, 12/18/2004; Newsweek, 12/27/2004]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Civil Liberties

Bradford Berenson.Bradford Berenson. [Source: PBS]In the weeks following 9/11, government lawyers begin to formulate a legal response to the newly perceived threat of terrorism. Four related issues are at hand: forceful prevention, detention, prosecution, and interrogation. What degree of force can the government employ to prevent acts of terrorism or apprehend suspected terrorists? How and where can it best detain terrorists if captured? How can it best bring them to trial? And how can it best obtain information from them on terrorist organizations and plots? These questions are handled in a new atmosphere that is more tolerant towards flexible interpretations of the law. Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel at this time, later recalls: “Legally, the watchword became ‘forward-leaning’ by which everybody meant: ‘We want to be aggressive. We want to take risks.’” [New York Times, 10/24/2004] This attitude is seemingly in line with the president’s thinking. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall President Bush saying, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say. We are going to kick some ass” (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 23-24] At the center of legal reconstruction work are Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, his deputy Timothy E. Flanigan, and David S. Addington, legal counsel to Vice President Cheney. [New York Times, 12/19/2004] They will find a helpful hand in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), most notably its head, Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee [Los Angeles Times, 6/10/2004] and his deputies John C. Yoo [New York Times, 8/15/2004] and Patrick F. Philbin. Most of the top government lawyers dwell in fairly conservative circles, with many being a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal fraternity. Some have clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose ruling effectively lead to the presidency being awarded to George W. Bush after the 2000 presidential election. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] Others worked for Judge Lawrence H. Silberman, who set up secret contacts with the Iranian government under President Reagan leading to the Iran-Contra scandal, and who advised on pursuing allegations of sexual misconduct by President Clinton. [Inter Press Service, 2/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Richard A. Clarke, John C. Yoo, Joan Claybrook, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bradford Berenson, Jay S. Bybee, Alan M. Dershowitz, Rena Steinzor

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The US Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility refuses to refer two former Bush administration officials to authorities for criminal or civil charges regarding their authorizations of the torture of suspected terrorists (see Before April 22, 2009). John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, two senior officials in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, provided the legal groundwork that allowed American interrogators to use sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other torture methods against terror suspects (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, and August 1, 2002). The report finds that Yoo and Bybee, along with former OLC head Steven Bradbury, exhibited “poor judgment” in their actions. The OPR refuses to make the report’s conclusions public. It is known that senior Justice Department official David Margolis made the decision not to refer Yoo and Bybee for legal sanctions. [Office of Professional Responsibility, US Department of Justice, 7/29/2009 pdf file; Washington Post, 1/31/2010]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Bush administration (43), David Margolis, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Professional Responsibility, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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